Gray-haired, bespectacled and taciturn, Schulhofer is a former steeplechase rider who has enjoyed modest success as a trainer. His only other Kentucky Derby horse was Cryptoclearance, who finished fourth in 1987. Last year Schulhofer had two promising early contenders, Slavic and Senor Pete, but they both fizzled out before Derby day. This year, he has Fly So Free and two other good colts, Scan and Cahill Road, who should rank high in anybody's Derby ratings.
Last November, Schulhofer shipped Scan, who won last year's Cowdin and Remsen stakes in New York, out to California. The move was intended to help Schulhofer get a good line on the West Coast competition, which is formidable, while at the same time keeping Scan and Fly So Free apart until the Kentucky Derby. Although Scan, a son of Mr. Prospector, was only third in his first start, the Feb. 10 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, he figures to be a factor against big guns like Excavate, Whadjathink, Best Pal and the other leading California-based 3-year-olds.
As for Cahill Road, whose breeding is outstanding—he's a full brother to Unbridled, the winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic—he also raced to victory last Saturday at Gulf-stream, beating seven colts to win a 1[1/16]-mile allowance race by nearly two lengths on the Fountain of Youth card.
When the races were over, Schulhofer pondered his two colts' performances and said, "I've always thought that Cahill Road might be the only horse that has a shot at Fly So Free."
Still, Fly So Free looks more and more like the most solid Kentucky Derby favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979. Interestingly, Spectacular Bid was also the last 2-year-old champion colt to win the Derby. Is there a jinx? Schulhofer scoffs at that kind of talk, maybe because he has Tommy Valando in his corner.
The 68-year-old Valando, owner of Fly So Free, made his fortune in the entertainment business. In the early 1950s, he published such hit songs as Young at Heart, Wheel of Fortune, Cross Over the Bridge and Beyond the Reef. When it became apparent that rock was taking over the pop marketplace, Valando shifted his attention to Broadway, publishing the music for Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Godspell, A Little Night Music, Zorba and Sweeney Todd.
His interest in horses began when he got a taste of the action on a visit to venerable Saratoga racetrack in upstate New York. One thing led to another, and in the early 1980s, he bought into some horse partnerships put together by Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable in Aiken, S.C.
Eventually, Valando decided to go out on his own "because I like to be the guy who moves my own checkers." In 1989, he and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased two yearlings at the Keeneland sales in Lexington for a total of $120,000. One of them was Fly So Free, for which Valando paid $80,000, a fortuitous turn of events that Elizabeth likens to the time Tommy called Columbia Records and recommended that they use this kid singer his wife had heard to record the song My Coloring Book. Her name was Streisand.
Last Saturday afternoon, it seemed only fitting that the man who had pursued and convinced Frank Sinatra to sing Young at Heart in the early 1950s should be smiling so broadly after winning a race called the Fountain of Youth.
"It's very similar to opening night on Broadway," said Valando, "the nervousness, the uncertainty. Those songs were thrills, but nothing like this."